Candidates for Senate and Party-list: Hardly Noticed
TWO WEEKS into the campaign period for national positions, both print and broadcast media have mostly focused on the presidential and vice presidential race to the near exclusion of the Senate and party- list elections.
The emphasis given to the two top elective posts is understandable, given the number of candidates vying for president and vice-president. But our political system assigns equal powers and coordinates responsibility in governance to Congress. As of Feb. 19, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) listed 50 for the Senate and 115 organizations seeking representation in the House of Representatives through national vote, not district-level, selection.
But so far, the media have not shown interest in naming all of them, much less introducing their worthiness, or lack of it, to the voting public.
CMFR reviewed the coverage of selected primetime TV newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA 7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon, and CNN Philippines’ Network
AMONG THE newspapers CMFR reviewed from Feb. 9 to 20, The Standard was found to feature Romualdez quite frequently.
Romualdez, Leyte’s 1st Dristrict representative, is on his third term. He is one of the 50 candidates vying for a senate seat in the upcoming elections, running under Lakas-Christian-Muslim-Democratic Party (LAKAS-CMD). Apart from authoring 46 house measures and co-authoring 57, he logged a total attendance record of 160 days out of a total of 168 session days in the 15th Congress. On the 16th Congress attendance record (Jan. 20, 2014 to Dec. 17, 2014 data) he logged a total of 26 out of 70. [Read More]
News) and the Manila-based newspapers (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine STAR, Manila Bulletin, The Standard, The Manila Times,The Daily Tribune, Business Mirror, Business World, and Malaya Business Insight) from Feb. 9 to 20. The monitor found that coverage during the first two weeks of the campaign period was limited to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, with very little space in print and broadcast time devoted to the senatorial and party-list races.
Little in general
The media reported the names of the candidates of each party as these were announced in the later part of 2015. But with few exceptions, that was the last we heard of them, apart from those who have been able to buy advertising space. News reports have concentrated on campaign sorties of the contenders for president and vice-president, picking up on every utterance and reactions on various issues and controversies.
Only a small number of senatorial aspirants were subjects of reports or cited as sources. CMFR’s scan of news reports showed up two candidates who have gained more attention than anyone else among the candidates if these have gained more than anyone else.
Not surprisingly, Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao was the most covered in terms of the number of reports in print and primetime newscasts. But coverage was provoked mainly by his controversial statements on same-sex marriage and hardly drew from his record as district representative. The reports on his criticism of homosexuality did not probe on the implications on social policies which his views could help determine in the Senate.
The other senatorial candidate is definitely less known, despite a political name. Rep. Martin Romualdez of Leyte, running under LAKAS, was second, with a total of 20 reports (10 of which were published in The Standard). Although hardly heard from on policy issues in the past, campaign reports have recorded his stand on pay hikes for government employees, the need for contingency plans for overseas Filipino workers following the fall of oil prices, and President Aquino’s veto of the bill increasing SSS pensions (see sidebar).
Also noted by news reports were Senator Franklin Drilon’s stands on some issues like the health records of presidential candidates. Drilon, currently the Senate President, is running for re-election under the Liberal party.
With 50 candidates for senator, the media could have exerted efforts this early into the campaign period to examine their qualifications, track records, and plans of action. This would involve apportioning space and time during the early period of the campaign so that voters can get as much information about all candidates for the Senate, their experience, their record of performance in positions held and their stand on selected issues.
On the party-list candidates
From 127 that filed their COCs in October 2015, the Comelec listed 115 certified party-lists vying for a seat in the Congress’ House of Representatives. Republic Act 7941 (Party-List System Act), approved in March 1995, defined party-lists as a political or sectoral party or a coalition of parties, as well as the qualifications of nominees, and number of representatives among others.
The nominees of winning party-lists bear the same responsibilities that district representatives have, among them to author and sponsor bills and to become committee heads. The intent of the law is to broaden the representation of the people in Congress to include those working on sectoral issues and concerns. Information on those seeking these seats should be scrutinized closely by the public to determine whether these are credible advocates for the people.
This early into the campaign period, there have been limited reports that highlighted the impact of party-list in Philippine politics. If indeed, the purpose is to expand representation, then voters should know the history and background of the association, including those they present as nominees to Congress.
CMFR was able to note and cheer efforts (Reviewing Party-list performance) by ABS-CBNNews.com and TV Patrol for reports by Gigi Grande that discussed their performance (“REPORT CARD: Would you vote for these party-list groups again?” Feb. 11,) and party-list representatives 30% of whom, according to cited studies, belong to political dynasties. “Party-list sa Kongreso: Para kanino?” (“Party-lists in Congress: For whom?,” Feb. 14).
Edna Co, a professor of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance, said in the latter report that the party-list system is slowly being used to further widen the influence of some political families. Grande’s report also cited data that showed that almost half of the party-list representatives have a net worth of PHP 15 million and above based on their 2014 statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth.
Media should sustain the flow of this kind of information and analysis during the campaign period. Their campaigns should be scrutinized as party lists are now aligning themselves as well with national candidates in seeking votes.
Two weeks since the start of campaign period, it could be said that the Senate and party-list races have not been receiving as much media coverage as the significance of their roles warrant. CMFR’s monitor of electoral coverage in 2010 found the same failing in the media.